On May 2, a leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion suggested the justices plan to overrule Roe v. Wade. For nearly fifty years, Roe v. Wade has allowed women across the country to gain access to safe abortions without excessive governmental intervention. Roe v. Wade set a nationwide precedent that a woman’s right to privacy encompasses her right to receive an abortion.
When I first heard the news about the possible overturning, I was both shocked by the leak and deeply disappointed about what it signaled. I received multiple texts from my mom and female friends, who were disturbed by the potential for such a decision to be undone. I live in a liberal city whose inhabitants are overwhelmingly pro-choice, meaning it is highly unlikely that I will experience the immediate effects of this decision.
Still, the Supreme Court majority’s seeming disregard for women’s reproductive rights and its willingness to repeal a precedent that has stood for so long disturbs me.
Earlier this year, my English 11 class debated the Mississippi case in question, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in a mock Supreme Court argument. The students were divided into three groups: justices, those defending Roe v. Wade and those calling for its overturning. I was placed in the group that argued Roe v. Wade is not grounded in the Constitution.
In our debates, the two teams of mock lawyers wrote detailed and well-researched arguments defending our respective sides and presented them over the course of two weeks. The exercise ignited a political fuse inside me. Becoming so thoroughly educated about something that protected me and every woman in my community was enriching, and being able to understand what arguments were made for both sides allowed us as a class the opportunity to contemplate the strength of certain arguments while passionately advocating others.
Since I was on the side arguing against the ruling of Roe v. Wade, I argued that the right to privacy detailed in the Ninth Amendment doesn’t encompass the right to have an abortion. Many pro-lifers argue that laws protecting abortion are unconstitutional because no state shall “deprive any person of life” under the Fourteenth Amendment, and they believe life begins at conception. So on the other side, my classmates focused on the point that there is no clear consensus on when life begins, and more specifically how life is defined, and therefore there shouldn’t be regulations on abortion.
In researching my argument, I came to the understanding that Roe v. Wade doesn’t actually have strong grounds in the Constitution. The right to privacy on its own is an interpretation of the Ninth Amendment. The right to abortion is often argued to be protected under the right to privacy, but this strays too far from what is explicitly written in the Constitution.
Although my investigation led me to this conclusion, it didn’t change my view that the right to abortion protected by Roe v. Wade should be a federally protected right. Merely having foundational grounds in the Constitution shouldn’t alone determine whether a right should be protected. What should really be taken into consideration in a circumstance like this is the greater effect adopting a policy will have on the people it applies to. The right to abortion should be permanently gauranteed by Congress to women across the country regardless of its constitutional backing since it allows for women to access safe ways of terminating their pregnancies.
When abortion is protected under federal law, it allows for women to access a safe way to end their pregnancy. Because of all kinds of complications and circumstances, abortion is the only option for many women, and it will happen regardless of whether or not it is protected under law. The difference is that legally protected abortions will keep the woman alive, while stripping the woman of this right could result in her taking measures that are detrimental to her health.
My class’ mock argument was exhilarating, and part of the reason it was so enjoyable was because I knew that the right we were debating was one that was protected in Roe V. Wade, a decision that I believed was very unlikely to be stripped from us. I enjoyed arguing a perspective I didn’t agree with. There was a sort of thrill and carelessness in knowing I was defending a side that had already lost in 1973.
On May 2, reading that the Supreme Court voted to overrule the longstanding precedent, I was immediately reminded of my class debate. I then went through the emotions of feeling guilty for understanding the pro-life point of view even in a classroom setting since it now felt like a personal betrayal. In any controversial topic, it is important to see both sides and evaluate different perspectives. But the anger that I felt at our country when I heard of the leaked overruling outweighed the mindset of respecting different arguments.
The possible overruling forced me to face the fact that no matter how well-supported a right seems to be, there will always be the chance that it could be taken away from us at any moment. I viewed the right to abortion as a right that protected women’s reproductive health. To me, the notion that that right may not exist under federal law in the future is frightening. It challenges me to not assume that any right that seems completely reasonable and necessary will be guaranteed indefinitely.
Although I felt discouraged the moment I read the leak about the overruling of Roe v. Wade, it brings to light the constant state of change our country is in. It is easy to remain comfortable believing a right is secured, but what is more important is realizing that our country and all its laws are subject to change. This fact encourages me not only to seek out the change I would like to see in the country, but also to fight to protect the laws that I believe should remain in place.